Australia bounced back from their devastating 4-0 opening defeat to display the kind of spirit for which the team have become renowned down the years. It had been a testing week within Camp Socceroo following the humbling loss to Germany in Durban, with the team coming in for unprecedented criticism back home for the manner of their defeat as much as the scoreline.
Australia went into the match without their free-scoring talisman, Tim Cahill, due to suspension, but it was the Everton man's hitherto unheralded replacement, Brett Holman, who gave them the perfect start with an opener after just 11 minutes. Joy was to be short-lived, however, with the Socceroos suffering a seemingly mortal blow midway through the half when Harry Kewell, making his first start after returning from injury, was dismissed for a handball on the goalline, with Asamoah Gyan converting the resultant penalty.
However, while Ghana looked odds-on for three points at this stage, the Socceroos showed the same tenacity and fighting spirit that was their hallmark at Germany 2006, and very nearly snatched a win. "We showed great team spirit and I believe we were the better team even with ten men. We certainly created the better chances," midfielder Brett Emerton told FIFA.com.
We walk away with our heads held high. And it’s not over yet. We still believe we can win against Serbia.
"The first game was very disappointing in the way we played, and we copped a fair bit of criticism, so the boys were desperate to go out and put on a good performance. We got off to a fantastic start but unfortunately we went a player down. I think we did everything possible against a good Ghanaian team and I feel we can be proud of the way we played."
Emerton has long been renowned for his boundless energy, and he needed it in spades in Rustenburg, with the Socceroos at a numerical disadvantage. Playing on the right side of midfield, the Blackburn Rovers midfielder pushed into the forward line when the Socceroos were in possession following the loss of lone striker Kewell. After a decade in the national team, Emerton – the squad's most-capped outfield player – is in no doubt that the team will fight until the final minute of their concluding Group D match against Serbia in Nelspruit.
Emerton said: "The result obviously wasn't what we were looking for, but it was a much-improved performance and it still keeps us in contention. We will go into the next game with a lot of confidence and will believe that we can win it. This is the World Cup, a major tournament and one you look forward to as a player, so to get off to the worst possible start was very disappointing. [Today's] match couldn't come quick enough really, and although we didn't get the result we wanted, we walk away with our heads held high. And it's not over yet. We still believe we can win against Serbia so hopefully results go our way and we can go through to the next round."